News Analysis Jan 20, 2021 9:00 PM EST

WHO warns that PCR COVID tests are more likely to give false positives

The notice was issued only one hour after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, leading some observers to question the timing of the release.

WHO warns that PCR COVID tests are more likely to give false positives
Noah David Alter Toronto
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The World Health Organization issued a notice on Wednesday warning medical professionals to follow instructions of PCR tests for coronavirus to avoid getting false positive results.

The notice was released only one hour after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, leading some observers to question the timing of the release. If the PCR tests are resulting in false-positives, and that information is now used to mitigate the large positivity numbers, the number of case counts will begin to drop.

The optics of a decreasing COVID-case count would be a boon for the launch of the Biden administration.

The new guidance states that the "WHO reminds IVD users that disease prevalence alters the predictive value of test results; as disease prevalence decreases, the risk of false positive increases (2)." The notice reads: "This means that the probability that a person who has a positive result (SARS-CoV-2 detected) is truly infected with SARS-CoV-2 decreases as prevalence decreases, irrespective of the claimed specificity."

Former President Donald Trump has been heavily criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with the United States leading the world in both total cases and total deaths, although not per capita, according to official statistics.

A big problem for Trump had been the continuous increase in COVID-case counts. If many of those cases were established as extant with the help of PCR tests that were resulting in false-positives, that would mean that the case count for which Trump was criticized was not a factual number.

A number of supporters of Donald Trump have alleged that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is being exaggerated for the purpose of damaging his reputation in the lead-up to the 2020 election and the subsequent inauguration of Joe Biden. While such claims have not been proven, the recent notice from the WHO will likely further amplify these arguments.

The WHO in particular has faced the ire of supporters of Donald Trump, who have alleged the organization has been corrupted by the government of China. In the early stages of the pandemic, the WHO uncritically parroted misinformation promoted by the Chinese government, which a number of observers have suggested allowed the pandemic to spread out of control.

Allegations of corruption against the WHO's support of the Chinese government after an infamous interview with Bruce Aylward, who co-lead the WHO's team in China for the coronavirus pandemic, where the epidemiologist avoided a question concerning Taiwan, going as far as to temporarily leave the interview. When he returned, he attempted again to avoid the question before talking about China. China does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan and believes it to be a part of China.

In response to allegations of corruption, Donald Trump pulled US funding from the WHO last year. President Joe Biden promised during his presidential campaign that he would rejoin the WHO, and intended to do that on his first day in office.

The effects that the new notice will have on global coronavirus positivity rates is unclear.

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